BY MARC KARIMZADEH
When Gabriela Hearst says that her designs “don’t scream for attention, but show a presence,” she might as well be describing herself. Tall and strikingly beautiful, the Uruguay native can command a room without even uttering a word. Ample sophistication and aplomb do the talking.
The designer has channeled these characteristics into her eponymous label, and four seasons in, she counts a following of notable women as fans, among them Oscars favorite Brie Larson and Venezuelan entrepreneur Carmen Busquets.
Sentiments of luxury are present in every detail of Hearst’s life, from her elegant home in the West Village to the sense of romance and nostalgia that comes with stories of her childhood on the family ranch, surrounded by horses and cattle.
Those who have known Hearst – nee Perezutti – since those days are not surprised she ended up in fashion.
“I was just at my 20-year school reunion and everybody said, ‘You were the girl sketching in the back,’” she recalls. “I was designing everybody’s Quinceañera dresses. I was six years old when I watched Cinderella. When she got help from the little mouse and bird to do the dress, I was immediately transfixed by the idea that you can make clothes. And so I went to my grandmother’s closet, took her lace gowns and started cutting them into a dress.”
Her grandmother was less mad and more impressed by Gabriela’s creative spirit – something she explored further over the years by handpainting leather jackets, including one with the face of The Cure singer Robert Smith for a boyfriend. Yet a career in fashion, she admits, was not something she pursued actively. “I studied media,” the designer says. “I never thought of fashion as a possibility.”
At age 21, Hearst took a hiatus from her studies to model in Europe and eventually made her way to New York, where she worked as a sales director for a fashion showroom. I thought, “I can do this,” she says of designing, and before long, she and two partners were plotting to launch Candela, the contemporary brand that originated in Brooklyn with silk-screened T-Shirts. A decade later, the line is profitable and fueled her drive to add a more elevated collection.
“I felt that I wanted to work with these beautiful yarns,” she said. “I am a rancher and we create very high-end product on the ranch, from grass-fed organic meat to organic merino wool. I wanted to incorporate the values that we have on the ranch into the line—that means working with the best leathers, the best yarns, the best fabrics.”
The moment you put your own name on the label, you can no longer hide behind it. The integrity and conscience of the product reflect you. The clothes represent what you believe in, so you have to set the bar very high.
Her background informs the lifestyle—from equestrian touches to wools sourced on the family ranch for special tweeds she is using in her Fall/Winter 2016 collection.
For this interview, Hearst wore an elegant wool suit from her label’s first season, inspired by a style her mother wore, with raw edges, distinct hardware stirrups and Savile Row touches, teamed with sturdy boots for a statement of sartorial chic. She matched the look with her new “Nina” bag, named for Nina Simone and shaped like a ball—or, as she playfully refers to it, the “Power Ball,” which already has the nod of approval from one of the world’s foremost design gurus.
I was going up in an elevator in London with this bag and noticed this guy checking out my bag. He said, ‘That’s a really cool bag, who makes it?’ and I told him I do. I was doing a run of 25 and he wanted to buy one for his wife. He gave me his business card and it was Jony Ive.
The designer, who has three children and two stepchildren, calls her line “a real family business— I am Gabriela and Austin [her husband] is the Hearst. I am the designer and he thinks on the business side in very creative ways.”
Such a sense of creativity will bode well for the designer’s future. Hearst already sells the collection to stores like Barneys New York and Forty Five Ten in Dallas. A freestanding store and online retail experience are high on her agenda, though she admits that “very few people know what the landscape is going to look like in five years. Things are changing so fast that it’s so difficult to predict what is happening.”
And for that, she has a simple remedy. As she puts it, “You just have to stick to what you believe in and go your own path.”